Retrospective analysis of dryland cotton

13 April, 2005

___Dryland cotton can be an attractive proposition in a good season, but in a season with a dry finish, dryland crops put even experienced management to the test._

p. Bernie Caffery, a cotton consultant on the Darling Downs with more than 20 years’ experience, rates the finish to this season as one of the driest. p. Speaking on the weekly CSD Web on Wednesday video he said: “We were set up with good soil profile moisture, good early growth, and good boll set, but then we have had no worthwhile rain in the last three months, and unfortunately the crops started to crash in mid January.” p. Asked to comment on the benefits of new technology under these conditions, he said: “Bollgard® II was definitely ahead in its fruit set early, but the conventional was quickly catching up before we ran out of moisture. Picking has only just started, but the Bollgards are definitely looking OK.” p. He said the major impact of moisture stress on dryland crops later in the season was a loss of some of the top crop, and production of some very small bolls as plants stressed out. p. “We have some definite concern about the fibre length on those top bolls, and maybe the micronaire, and we just hope that there is not too much of it to downgrade the whole sample, but nothing has been ginned yet so we don’t know. p. “Certainly it’s reinforced the need in dryland crops to have lower plant populations and wider row spacings. Anything on a solid row configuration really crashed early,” he said, reinforcing the need for skip row rather than solid plant. p. On yield prospects, he said the northern Downs had early potential for more than seven bales per hectare, but the best would probably be a touch better than three bales, with plenty of dryland crops ranging below two bales. p. He said the southern Downs had fared better, and would probably average about five bales per hectare. p. __Leisa Holden, a consultant from the Macintyre/Gwydir region, said 4000-5000 hectares had been planted to dryland varieties in that region, mostly as double skip or single skip. Early planting dates were in the first two weeks of October on the early rain, and the late plant just before the Bollgard® II cutoff date, November 15. p. “Early crops got a lot of rain and put on a lot of fruit. Some crops had up to 15 inches of rain in November and December, so we had a lot of crops that actually got severely waterlogged and then nothing in January/February. p. “This meant they actually had a yield limitation from the dry period, which was quite ironic. The late crops had a couple of inches of mid-November rain, but no rain to the end of December,” she said.

About 90 per cent of the Macintyre/Gwydir dryland cotton crop comprised Bollgard® varieties.

p. “The Bollgards have performed relatively well. It’s been a lot easier for growers to manage in a mixed cropping situation. If we can pick a bale out of Bollgard® in a relatively tough season, I think the risks associated with that are probably a lot less than they were in the past with conventional cotton. p. “If we can hit break-even in a really tough year, it’s probably a bit more of an opportunity for some growers that don’t have a lot of adversity to risk to plant cotton instead of some sorghum. p. “We have had up to 11 sprays on some conventional cotton, which is at the end of the day going to be costly. The Bollgards held up really well. We had some high mirid pressure and GVB pressure late season so we have had up to four sprays on some Bollgard® cotton but generally, they have been a lot easier from an insect point of view. p. “Yields have been anywhere from 0.8 bale/acre up to 1.4 in some heavy country. Sicot 80B has provided yield increases of around 10 per cent compared with adjacent areas of Siokra V-16B.” p. __Commenting on dryland cotton in the Namoi region, CSD extension and development agronomist, Rob Eveleigh, said the earliest of those crops have been defoliated and are being picked and the later crops, particularly on the Liverpool Plains, are probably still some time away from defoliation. p. “The crops have had a pretty hard time, particularly on the soil types that don’t store as much water, and also in areas that have not had as much rain. p. “Some of the leaf has been a bit difficult to get off those crops, and there has also been some regrowth where there have been storms, and that’s made defoliation a little bit untidy. p. “The early yields have not been staggeringly good. They have been around 0.75 bale/acre. I think some yields will certainly be over a bale.”

He noted some early issues with fibre quality, particularly length, which has been marginal and close to discounts. “The colour and grade are excellent. Some of the best grades I think people are going to get or have seen for many years,” Rob Eveleigh said.

p. In relation to dryland prospects next season, he said most of the Namoi and certainly a large part of the Gwydir had received good rain after the wheat harvest, with most fallows holding a pretty good store of moisture. p. If that is topped up over winter, and current forecasts of a wetter than average winter eventuate, he anticipates that prospects for dryland cotton will improve, providing price prospects and profitability versus alternative cropping options are also favourable. p. Further Information: *"Robert Eveleigh**, John Marshall, Craig McDonald or David Kelly":showstaff.asp?staff=1